Many of us have an unfulfilled dream. Desires to give up the day job and the morning commute to set up the business you have planned since your school days and start again. For most of us this dream will never become a reality, with too many reasons why taking the risk is, well, just too risky.
Here at Hotcourses, adult learning is an important factor in the lives of many of our users. As our Apprentice of the Year award winner Keith Fenwick proved, it can never be too late to learn something new. Some of the best businesses were started later in life, where entrepreneurs have quit their jobs to dedicate time to a product they believe in. Although there are risks involved, running your own business can be the most rewarding job of all. Therefore, when we heard about Mark Gabbertas – the award winning interior designer who walked away from his high-paid advertising job to become an apprentice cabinet maker, we knew he was the perfect Hotcourses success story. We were honoured when Mark agreed to re-live his life changing decision and tell us more about the business decisions that led to him becoming one of the most respected designers in the UK.
With no formal training, Mark has gone on to work for leading international brands such as Allermuir, Artifex and Boss, however his road to success has not been a smooth ride. Gabbertas left university and worked as a motorcycle messenger at a small advertising agency, before company cuts led to him being made redundant six months later. Something that strikes me about Mark’s story however is that luck is normally on his side, ‘I got into Saatchi and Saatchi as an account handler – the agency I had tried to join initially from university where I stayed for eight or nine years. During my time there I worked on many high profile and varied accounts, ranging from political parties to confectionary to newspapers to alcohol.’
‘However during this time I was becoming acutely aware of the essentially meretricious nature of the industry and started to plot my escape. At this stage, my indifference to my job was becoming all too apparent and following an amusingly frank exchange with a major client one day, I was made redundant for the second time in my career the next morning.’
Giving him the push he needed, Mark tells me, ‘It was [then] that my new life started.’ I ask Mark whether he was apprehensive about taking this leap of faith (a leap many of us long to take, but never feel strong enough or belive the time is right to take the jump); the epitome of calm, Mark replies, ‘Sort of – change can be a daunting prospect and I found myself sweeping floors and making the coffee as a furniture-making apprentice within a week of leaving the hallowed halls of an advertising agency. The psychological jolt and subsequent adjustment is not to be underestimated, but the truth is that it is often what one needs to find a more balanced and equitable perspective.’
However, as much as working towards your dream is undoubtedly rewarding, money does indeed seem to make the world go round and is an important thing to consider before leaving work to start a business, ‘The financial implications of making this change are significant – I rarely meet anyone who has changed their career significantly and earns more, certainly in the medium term, so I think it has to be sensible to prepare yourself mentally and financially for this sort of massive change, so that when the time comes and the opportunity arises, you can grasp it with no excuses for capitulation.’
After ten years working as a designer in a studio, designing and making for both private and commercial clients including Virgin and the Geffyre Museum, Mark was hit with another stroke of luck that turned out to be the birth of The Mark Gabbertas Studio, ‘The business developed and grew and then one of those wonderful auspicious events occurred whereby a colleague from my days in advertising who had been equally suspicious of that industry called to say she too had decided to pursue her dreams. She was opening a restaurant in Soho and asked whether I would design the furniture. The restaurant was called Atelier and the furniture won awards. I was subsequently called by a high profile manufacturing brand, Allermuir, who asked if I was interested in licensing the design for one of the chairs to them.’
Overnight, Mark’s business model changed, ‘I switched from designing and making furniture to concentrate purely on design and licensing these to brands.’ His studio was established in 2002 and has made a mark (no pun intended) on the industry. How has he done it? ‘Long hours, lots of knocking on doors and speculative pitching; all part and parcel of making a reputation.’
When asking Mark what advice he would give to someone wanting to follow in his footsteps and quitting their job to start their dream business he tells me a story, ‘I made a visit to a leading London legal practice maybe a month after I had started my apprenticeship with Codrington Furniture, where I was going to help install bookcases which we had made for this firm. I had previously visited the same company a few months prior in my role as a director at Saatchi’s and without thinking I approached the same front door as I had then. We were briskly asked not to enter this way, but to use the tradesman’s entrance instead at the rear. My point is that this was the most pertinent reminder if one was needed, of the nature of fallibility, the pitfall of pride and the distorted map of self worth we call carry.’
Finally Mark reveals it’s taken him a long time to work out where his designs fit in such a competitive industry and can best describe his work as, ‘A desire to create character through simplicity.’ So what inspires him when faced with a blank sheet of paper? ‘Just the idea of trying to do something better.’
Mark’s ambitions and expectations have changed with his business and he tells me to ask him in five years if he’s fulfilled them. His flexible and positive attitude suggests that learning and pushing personal boundaries is the most fulfilling job of all. Although leaving work to start a business has its risk, it seems to almost make you want it more. You work harder, you never stop learning, you challenge yourself more and you spend each day proving to the world that the leap of faith paid off after all.
If you find yourself planning your business on your morning commute and are stuck in the day job whilst others chase your dreams, it’s never too late to start planning your escape. Here at Hotcourses we have a number of business start-up courses on offer to help make you make your plan foolproof. Moreover, if Mark’s story has inspired you and you want to find out more about interior design, we have plenty of options available for all abilities. Get going – who knows what might happen!
Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.